Monthly Archives: December 2016

2016: Year in Review

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2016 has been a surprising, fun-filled year!
Here are some pictures of the things that happened.

What new adventures will 2017 bring? We’ll just have to wait and see!

Favorite Foods of 2016

If you know me, you know I love food. There’s something about good food that brings people together, and some of my favorite memories are spent with good food enjoyed with family and friends. Here are my top ten favorite dishes from 2016 (in no particular order).

Dinner at the Bohemian Café
#10: The last meal at the Bohemian Cafe

The Bohemian Cafe, a mainstay in Omaha’s historic Czech neighborhood, closed its doors this year. It was the first place Vivian came to eat when in Omaha (with our late friend Keith, who also passed away this year). It was also where I bumped into Warren Buffett when Vivian took me there for my birthday in 2011. The food was from another era. This particular dish was their roast Beef with burgundy gravy and mushrooms, sweetsauer cabbage, and dumplings (which were especially memorable). This place was a gem and it will be missed.

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#9: All-you-can-eat Sushi at Tokyo Sushi

We went to this place twice in 2016 to get our fill of sushi, and we also took Vivian’s aunt and cousin there when they came to visit (pictured above). The sushi is very good and the menu is fairly extensive. You can even get sashimi at certain time, but the fact that you can have as much as you like makes this place particularly special.

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#8: Big Sal’s Pizza

My favorite pizza place in Nebraska or anywhere else nearby. Whenever we stop by in Lincoln, whether for a freelance gig or to visit the state capitol, we try to make a trip to Big Sal’s for lunch. I always get a large combo and also try to use a Groupon whenever it’s available (and it usually is).

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#7: Brats and hot dogs at the Costco food court

One of the highlights of shopping at Costco with the family is being able to stop by the food court for one of their 1/4 lb. hot dogs for lunch. You can get them with a drink for just $1.50, which is likely a loss-leader for Costco. The best part, however, is just being able to go out to lunch with the family after shopping (and nibbling on samples, of course).

Mother's Day Quiche
#6: Quiche for Christmas & Mother’s Day

This year, I learned how to make some simple quiche for both Mother’s Day and Christmas. Preparing these things was remarkably simple. I buy pre-made frozen pie crusts and then fill them with cooked bacon and sausage, cheese, onions, peppers, spinach, or whatever. Then I pour an egg-and-cream mixture over them and bake for 15 minutes at 375° F. It’s especially nice to prepare these a day ahead of time so they’re easy to throw in the oven when it’s almost time to eat.

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#5: Jen’s birthday cake for Dennis

For Dennis’ birthday this year, our mutual friend Jen made this super-rich, super-dense, multi-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. You could hear it landing on my plate with a “thud” and it was the sort of thing you savor with every bite.

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#4: Vivian’s Jalapeño poppers

One of Vivian’s specialties are bacon-wrapped Jalapeño poppers stuffed with a cream cheese and onion soup mixture. She usually tried to get all the seed out ahead of time so they’re not too spicy, but I don’t mind them hot. It just means it take a little longer to enjoy them all. (I would recommend removing the toothpicks, however.)

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#3: Father’s Day Cubano Lunch

I first learned about the cubano sandwich while watching the 2014 Jon Favreau film Chef via Netflix. It’s made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on bread put through a panini press, and it’s quite delicious. For Father’s Day, I got to have one with onion rings and a seafood salad that was quite generous with crab and avocado. Best Father’s Day lunch ever!

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#2: Liver with fava beans and a nice chianti

I must be unusual in that I love liver and onions. Somehow, the iron-rich dish tastes good and feels good, particularly served hot and smothered in a sauce made with butter and red wine. The fava beans added a nice, meaty side, and a good red wine, in this case a Chianti, is a must.

Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.

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#1: Valentine’s Day Apple Roses

Vivian made these beautiful little things for me for breakfast on Valentine’s Day this year. What can I say? They were nearly too beautiful to eat, but I made sure I got a nice picture of them first, of course.

A Stormy Little Christmas

Another fabulous Christmas has come and gone. This year, we got to enjoy a three-day weekend for the holidays, which was particularly nice since we had a whole Monday just to recuperate and clean house after a busy time with the whole family.

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The Christmas weekend started on Friday, with Vivian and me celebrating ten years since our very first date way back in 2006. We managed to squeeze in a movie this time around, ducking into the Aksarben Cinema to see Rogue One before anyone on Facebook could spoil it for us. We went down to the Old Market afterward to get our Christmas fudge from Mike at the Old Market Candy Shoppe, and then we crossed the street to have some Indian food for dinner at Himalayas (located in the Indian Oven’s old spot).

Vivian and I got to reminisce about old times before our traditional walk up and down the Gene Leahy Mall, lit with festive Christmas lights. It was much warmer than usual, with not-quite-freezing temperatures that made it a much more pleasant walk. Several other couples were out at the same time and asked us to get their pictures on the bridge while we were getting our own. We made one last stop by Ted & Wally’s for some date ice cream to celebrate ten first dates together!

  1. 2007: The French Café
  2. 2008: La Casa Pizza
  3. 2009: The Melting Pot
  4. 2010: The Passport
  5. 2011: The French Café
  6. 2012: España
  7. 2013: Venice Inn
  8. 2014: J’s on Jackson
  9. 2015: Le Bouillon (formerly the French Cafe)
  10. 2016: Himalayas
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On Christmas Eve Day, we got a little taste of a white Christmas as the world was covered with fog and icy mists throughout the day (what Vivian would call a “California Christmas”). After spending the morning cleaning house and getting food ready for the next day, we dropped by First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue for their Children’s Christmas Eve service at three o’clock. They had some live music and some traditional Christmas songs, as well as a story for the kids abut Mortimer Mouse.

We returned home to put some reindeer food out on the lawn before going inside for Christmas Eve Dinner. Jack and Donna made pork and chestnut stuffing along with some mincemeat pies for dessert. Hannah and Aaron put on their jammies, and I recited I recited Twas the Night Before Christmas before sending them off to bed (dancing sugar plums optional). After that, we — I mean Santa — filled the stockings and laid the presents under the tree. We also opened a few stocking gifts for each other, and Jack hot his milk and cookies before taking the sleigh on home.

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On Christmas Day, we got to have some thundershowers early in the morning as the kids got up to see their presents. We let them open a couple to each other, including a set of matching baby kitties for Hannah to go along with her plush black-and-white cat Zoe. I made some banana and chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, which we ate before we headed off to church. Yes, I insisted on going to church — it only happens once every seven years.

Back home, I made up our Christmas quiche for lunch before we opened some more presents. Hannah got a new “friend” named Layla, who stayed with us for the rest of the day. Aaron was quite happy with his train set and drum set, and mommy and daddy got a few gifts as well. Grandma and Grandpa Johnson came by later with Uncle Nathan and Jonny to spend the evening with us. We had some Christmas pizza for dinner and opened more presents, some of which were goofy gag gifts from the kids to us. Hannah got a good deal of mileage out of some wind-up Groucho Glasses. Even Santasaurus had a gift before Christmas was done.

It was a busy, busy weekend, and I’m glad we had Monday to recover. Mostly, it was wonderful just to have all our family under one roof again. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Christmas Soup

It looks like it’s going to be a rainy, wet Christmas with highs in the upper 50s, which is unusual for December but not entirely unwelcome to people who might be traveling places. We may wind up lighting a fire in our fireplace anyway, just for the ambiance.

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It was a completely different story a week ago, when it was below zero and we drove off to Jenny and Kody’s place for a Christmas Party with our mutual friends. Kody made some stuffed pork loin for dinner, and we sat around playing Christmas charades and a game trying to open multiple layers of present with a pair of oven mitts. Our usual crew of friends were all in attendance, of course, and it was good to have a warm place to celebrate the holidays together.

The next day, we took the kids to church to sing some Christmas Carols together with some folks from the Louisville E-Free church. Hannah seemed particularly in the spirit, dancing in her seat, going up front to sing with the little ones and even dragging mommy up as well. We stayed afterward and had some soup downstairs with everyone before heading home.

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After the bitter cold, it warmed up enough later in the week to justify a trip to Stinson Park. Hannah and Aaron got to run around outside a bit, and we even got some cupcakes at Jones Bros. for old times’ sake. It was nice to get outside with the kids, though they do have plenty of fun inside when it’s too cold to go out.

Then went the sun went down, we took the kids out to look at some Christmas lights. Some of them were very impressive, with music timed to the blinking lights and broadcast via FM radio to anyone who wanted to drive by and tune in. Clark W. Griswold couldn’t have done a better job.

A funny thing happened on the way to the White House

I’ve personally given this book to Rudy Giuliani, Jill Stein, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson.

The electoral college is meeting today, so here’s one last election-related post before the process officially draws to a close. I’ve posted quite a few times about meeting and greeting various people running for President over the past year, but there’s a story behind these meetings I haven’t told before.

You see, I’m the marketing manager for the Pope Paul VI Institute, a Catholic non-profit specializing in women’s reproductive healthcare. Our founder and director, Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, wrote a short book in 2014 titled “An Insider’s Look at the War on Women,” which consists of 17 stories of real-life women who came to the Institute for help.

In mid-2015, I went to a event for Marco Rubio and was surprised at how easy it was to walk right up and chat with him. He was one of the front-runners in the polls at the time, but it was early enough in the campaign that one of his rallies consisted of a hundred people having lunch at a Bass Pro Shop. When I heard Ben Carson was coming to town, I had the bright idea of taking along a copy of Dr. Hilgers’ book to hand to him. (Being a doctor himself, I thought Dr. Carson would appreciate it.) The plan went off without a hitch.

As more candidates came to town, I brought more copies of the book along to hand off to them. Before long, I’d been able to pass along copies to nearly every Republican candidate running for president.

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Hillary Clinton’s people pushed the book away as I tried giving it to her.

I’d tried giving copies to Democrat candidates too, of course. Bernie Sanders seemed to avoid me at his rally, greeting audience members along the barricade only to wander away (twice) when he got to me, so I gave a copy of the book to one of his aides. The book came within inches of Secretary Clinton as well, but her staffers physically pushed it aside as she walked by (but not before I got a photo). I even brought along a copy when Barack Obama came to town, but I wasn’t able to get anywhere near him at the event.

At all these events, there were many people seeking autographs, and I quickly learned how valuable a Presidential autograph can be. A $20 book is worth several hundred dollars more with an authentic POTUS’ signature inside the cover. One of my friends from the campaign trail got close enough to President Obama to ask for an autograph at his rally — with two copies of The Audacity of Hope in tow. I asked him if he’d gotten the POTUS to sign them for him, and he told me Mr. Obama actually reached for his pen, but Secret Service told him, “no,” and he put it back.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump signed the book himself.

Donald Trump was an entirely different story. When I went to see Mr. Trump nearly a year ago, there was a predictable swarm of people pressed around the stage trying to get his autograph at the end of his speech. Fortunately, I knew where to get into position beforehand to get close enough to hand Mr. Trump my copy of the book. He walked the line signing autographs and getting selfies taken for half an hour or more. A guy near me wanted to get a Trump Bobblehead Doll signed, but a Secret Service agent told him that he couldn’t do it. When Mr. Trump came close enough to hear his request, however, he waved off the concerns with his hand and gestured for the man to give him the doll, which he signed.

When I finally got to hand Mr. Trump the book, he actually autographed the cover with his own name. Then, he picked up the book, narrowed his eyes as he looked at the title, and asked, “Whose is THIS?!” I told him, “That’s a gift for YOU, from my boss,” to which he nodded shrugged, and handed the book to an aide before moving along.

So far, I’ve given copies of this book to over a dozen politicians, several of whom now have cabinet positions in the new administration. I’ve never learned if any of them have ever read a single page of the book. I imagine many copies could have been tossed in a recycle bin, but I’m fairly certain that the one I gave to Mr. Trump is still out there somewhere. Donald Trump’s autograph on the book makes it worth actual money, but the irony that the book is titled, “An Insider’s Look at the War on Women” — that’s priceless.

Tom & Jeff

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On Thursday last week, Vivian and I spent the evening with Tom Becka and Jeff Koterba, who both gave a brief talk about their careers in broadcasting and editorial cartooning, respectively. The event was held at the Kaneko, which is both an art gallery and studio for Japanese ceramic artist Jun Kaneko (who also attended the event). I was used to rubbing elbows with Tom throughout the Presidential election, and both Vivian and I get to see Jeff occasionally when performing with the Prairie Cats, but this venue was certainly unique. Tom showed clips from “Becka’s Beat” on KPTM, and Jeff showed a handful of his cartoons. They took questions from the audience and then invited everyone to draw our own editorial cartoons and show them to the group.

It was a fun event, but I’ll have to go back sometime to actually look at the gallery itself sometime. We didn’t get to see much more than the room where the talk was held (which contained mostly giant, placid-looking heads).

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On Saturday, we celebrated my parents’ joint birthday at their house for breakfast. I assembled a breakfast casserole that cooked in the slow-cooker overnight, while Vivian made some bacon and cut up strawberries for everyone. My dad made some crispy “rosettes” with powdered sugar (one of his mom’s favorites), which he’d last made for us seven years ago when we visited in North Carolina. He and mom got to open a handful of presents afterwards from both the kids (which they picked out from the Dollar Tree) and us. Nathan and Jonathan also surprised mom and dad with a giant, new TV (which required a bit of assembly afterward).

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Then that evening, Vivian and I went to the Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party together. The party committee did a great job with entertainment, which included a pictorial Christmas Song trivia game and a round of Christmas Jeopardy with all the tables competing for prizes. An a capella group from Roncalli Catholic High School sang to us during dinner, and afterward the fun was mostly done, several employees got some festive pictures taken around the Christmas Tree.

I also gave Dr. Hilgers a special present — a picture of our new President-Elect holding a copy of his book. I snapped this photo myself nearly a year ago after handing the book to Mr. Trump from the autograph line at the Mid-America Center. It had been my goal from the beginning to get that book into the hands of the next president. Mission Accomplished!

(I’m going to have another post shortly about this book and the story that went along with it. Stayed tuned for that — it’ll probably be my last political post for a while.)

Christmas Fun and Dim Sum

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The holiday fun continues for the Johnson Family as we took our kids down to the Children’s Museum on Friday night. They had their usual run of the place, which included the carousel, bulldozer, the “Fantastic Future Me” machine, and a science show involving liquid nitrogen.

Of course, they also had a surprise visit with Santa! The “snow queen” and a frighteningly excited elf were on hand to introduce St. Nick and spread some Christmas cheer with soap suds with the kids.

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On Saturday, after being warned of a MASSIVE blizzard coming next Wednesday (which never materialized), we got our first actual snowfall of the year. There were just enough flakes to make our house pretty and the roads a bit treacherous. A car in front of us slid off the road and took down a light pole, which we didn’t notice until we ran into it. Fortunately, the car and everyone inside were OK.

On Saturday night, we had a “holiday game night” with Kate and Jessica and a few of our mutual friends. We had chili and potato soup and played a couple hilarious rounds of Telestrations, which included a Party Pooper, a Man Purse, and My Dad (AKA a butler, for some reason).

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Then on Sunday, we had dinner with Phil, Jen, and Jenny at the Golden Mountain in northwest Omaha, a Chinese place specializing in Dim Sum, among other things. Dim Sum, as I learned, was a bit like tapas, and we all shared in a bunch of dishes that Jen took the liberty of ordering for us: pork dumplings, chicken feet, pan-fried turnip cakes, spicy shredded pork ear, pork and rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and some Steamed Egg Custard Buns for dessert. The food was excellent, but the most fun was just having some kid-free time with a few good grown-up friends.

Afterward, Vivian and I had a brief drive through the Linden Park neighborhood for our annual gawking at the rich people’s Christmas lights before heading on home.

One week closer to Christmas!